It is an irony typical of the early 21st century that the Republican Party and its subsidiary the Tea Party are in favor of cutting funding to the National Endowment for the Arts as a way of reducing the deficit—while others in the party are using paintings to promote a very familiar dogma.
An ardent activist, artist Jon McNaughton is using his paintings to relay a vision he received during the 2008 elections, and as a medium for visual political rhetoric. It appears from his work that art truly has a place in our society as a creative force as long as the message portrayed is one of American exceptionalism mixed with a strong rebuke of people and ideas he ardently disagrees with.
He is being dubbed the Tea Party artist, and two of his works immediately come to fore. The first, titled “One Nation Under God,” depicts a a crowd of people real and fictional who have gathered in an imaginary time and space. On the right is Jesus (the classical American-European version with light brown hair and blue eyes) with actual American icons like presidents Ronald Reagen and James Madison along with fictitious saints. On the left, a “liberal news reporter” a professor clutching Darwin’s Origin of the Species and a judge weeping over Rowe vs. Wade.
The second painting, “The Forgotten Man,” again shows a large gathering of people, some real some not: Politicians and citizens watching President Obama stepping on the constitution. (Presumbably not the 1868 version with the 14th Amendment guaranteeing every American born in this country citizenship.)
Today’s politics, being as polarized, perhaps, as at any time in our history since the Civil War, lend themselves to this type of expression, so it is not surprising. What is surprising (and disturbing) is the use of art by the right as a tool to spread an ideology. Since its inception, some in the the Tea Party rallies and marches have brought signs bearing pictures of Obama with a Hitler mustache, or wearing Muslim garb, and New Testament Biblical quotes to legitimize their cause.
Now with these two paintings they have have taken several more steps down the slippery slope of joining Christianity and American politics together (neglecting the Constitutional separation of church and state), promoting even more political divide in a country that has seen heated confrontational debate recently and revisionist history of the sort Congresswoman Michele Bachmann explained on a C NN broadcast when she said that the founding fathers worked hard to abolish slavery. On the same night President Obama gave his the State of Union address calling for a “Sputnik” moment when it comes to educating our children.
The battle to reach and hold a political foothold on the hearts and minds of the American people started long ago and will continue for many years to come. And like all wars (where it is said that “all is fair in love and war”) some will take liberties with the truth to advance an agenda.
Still, when considering art—with its power to energize and enlighten our thoughts and ideas, an engine that drives our children to be creative, with all the different mediums bringing beauty and color to a world that all too often is drab,—[it is a shame to see art used to] create shadows of ignorance and intolerance.